Shumlin, Dubie weigh in on Vermont Yankee

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BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont’s top two gubernatorial candidates weighed in on an already controversial issue this election cycle when Republican Brian Dubie and Democrat Peter Shumlin both released statements regarding the recent detection of tritium in a decommissioned drinking water well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Dubie, the state’s incumbent lieutenant governor from Essex Junction, said he was troubled by the latest reports at the Vernon-based facility after state health officials reported a sample taken from a former drinking water well was contaminated with tritium on Friday.

Earlier this year, engineers at the plant traced tritium leaks to an old system of pipes. No tritium -- a radioactive byproduct of nuclear power as well as a naturally-occurring isotope -- was detected at the deepest range of the closed well, however.

Yankee opponents have deemed the nuclear plant unsafe with the radioactive material findings while advocates consider the tritium issue over-politicized because the concentration detected is relatively low when compared to Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.

"I’ve always said that the health and safety of Vermonters comes first. [Friday’s] discovery demonstrates the plant has much more work to do in order to regain the trust and confidence of Vermonters," Dubie said last week in a release. "I am calling on plant management to be open and forthright with information about the latest discovery. Questions must be answered. Trust must be rebuilt."

Shumlin, the outgoing Senate President Pro Tem from Putney, pressured the plant’s owner, Entergy Corp., to take immediate steps to avoid further disaster at Vermont Yankee and has called for the installation of more extraction pumps on the grounds.

"I have been saying for some time that the radioactive leaks at Vermont Yankee could be the largest man-made environmental crisis that Vermont has ever seen. Unless Entergy Louisiana is held accountable for this disaster, it could cost Vermonters millions of dollars and put the health and safety of thousands at risk," Shumlin said in a statement. "Entergy Louisiana needs to take immediate steps to ensure that this crisis does not worsen."

Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said it is not proper for the company to comment on any statements made within the gubernatorial campaign, but added Vermont Yankee announced in March an aggressive tritium remediation program that sets the standard in the nuclear industry.

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"We made a promise to the people of Vermont that we would go above and beyond current industry standards for investigating, tracking and remediating tritium releases," he said.

The tritium in the site’s groundwater did not present a threat to public health or safety at any time, according to Smith.

"All tritium on-site including the low levels found in the [Construction Office Building] well came from the leak discovered in January and repaired in February. There are no new or additional tritium leaks," Smith said. "No tritium has been detected in any on-site or off-site drinking water wells which are sampled regularly by Vermont Yankee, and none is expected given the characteristics of groundwater flow at the site."

Dubie, a longtime advocate for Vermont Yankee, said he cannot support the plant’s attempt to continue operations past its license date in March 2012 without assurance the public’s safety and health are not at risk.

"I will not rely on answers from plant management about this discovery. The [U.S.] Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Department of Health must prove the plant poses no health risk to Vermonters before I will be satisfied," Dubie said.

"As I have said on many occasions, science, not politics, must dictate policy. I commit to the people of Vermont that I will listen to those who are qualified to make the determination on safety and make decisions based on facts," he added. "The employees of Vermont Yankee are some of the smartest and most dedicated I’ve ever met. The plant is an important employer and supplier of energy. But we will never sacrifice the health and safety of Vermonters for anything."

Shumlin criticized his GOP counterpart for his "empty political grandstanding" on the issue so close to the Nov. 2 general election.

"Unlike my opponent, who has a long record of tolerating Entergy Louisiana’s leaks and lies, I have always put the safety and health of Vermonters first and will continue to do so as governor," he said. "In what initially appeared to be a conversion, three weeks before the election, Dubie said he demanded answers from Vermont Yankee, but when pressed admitted he didn’t have any specific questions for them. ... After years of being an apologist for Entergy Louisiana, [Dubie] just can’t be trusted to stand up to them and stand up for Vermont."

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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